Ethan is back in a Caldari vessel by the looks of his cabin. He is unusually pale, and there is a large cup sitting on his desk. He hesitates for a moment before being bent double by several wet, wracking coughs. Ethan then proceeds to spit some heavy fluid into the cup before beginning to speak.
It's been a while since I've been to cloning vats. I'd forgotten how long it takes to get the fluid out of your lungs. Goddamn I hate this shit. Pardon the cup --
Ethan spends the next several seconds coughing before spitting again. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and begins to speak.
We had a hell of a battle since my last entry. I'll try to start from the beginning.
As soon as I clone jumped to Korsiki I knew that things were serious. SAK was a beehive of activity -- students and their crews running around everywhere. People shouting, running, large pieces of equipment on hovercarts being pushed through hallways, all the stuff that comes right before a big battle. I was able to fight my way through the crowd to the docking bay to meet my Navy liason. He gave me a swift salute before taking me onboard the Hotspur II, a cormorant class destroyer that was going to be my primary for the battle. I only had time for a brief tour, but the crew seemed competent and ready. From there I was hustled off to an intel briefing. At this point it was about 20:00 hours, May 3rd, and I was feeling pretty disoriented from the jump.
There were perhaps thirty capsuleers at the briefing, all students. Hourly briefings were taking place as more and more students arrived at the station. From the very start, I realized things were looking pretty bad. Not one but three mercenary corporations had declared war on the university, and there was rumor of a fourth war declaration in the works. At the time I was pretty puzzled -- why would someone go to war with a teaching institution? Since the battle, however, I've been realizing that the university does represent a moderately powerful political entity, and while ostensibly neutral in corporate politics, is not without it's enemies. There's rumors in the student body of someone with immense resources and a serious problem with the University directors, but who knows. Not really my problem anyway.
As we continued to sift through the data, it only got worse. These mercenaries, the Seppuku warriors, weren't your average disorganized rabble. They were highly skilled and well funded, capable with fielding fleets of more than two dozen battleships. Two dozen! It turns out that the day before they had actually managed to put the University-owned starbase into reinforced mode with 25% shields. I was particuarly impressed at this -- I'd been to the starbase in the past, and had seen the heavy gun batteries and powerful shield generators that it possessed. They don't call it a "death star" for nothing, eh?
There were no details given to us in the intel briefing about the op. This didn't surprise me -- don't want to make it too easy for the spies, after all. They did give us a rendezvous time -- 14:30, an hour before the supply of strontium keeping the structure in reinforced mode would be depleted. With this in mind, I left to go see to the Hotspur and get more acquainted with her and her crew.
The ship was fitted for speed and firepower, the way a destroyer should be -- lots of railguns, afterburner, and minimal shielding. The cormorant hull is by nature a "paper tiger" with lots of turret mounts but not much more protection than a frigate, so I wasn't particularly surprised. After a brief conversation with her captain, we agreed upon some basic tactics. "Seppuku Warriors," the mercenary corporation, was expected to field heavy battleships and battlecruisers to bring down the starbase. This meant that the Hotspur's usual role as a frigate hunter would be largely useless, and we needed an alternative. I decided that we'd shadow the University's heavy hitters and try and supplement their heavy battery fire with whatever we could. Hopefully our heavy ships would soak up the return fire, and we could pound away unmolested. If we were targeted, I would warp us out, counting on the Hotspur's superior speed, maneuvability and small target profile to get us out of harm's way.
Fast forward to 14:30, May 4th. We rendezvoused at the station with the rest of the University fleet. Hotspur was assigned to fleet picket -- most of the ships were working on repairing the station's weaponry (it had been heavily damaged in the previous battle). I'm not qualified yet in remote repair systems, something that I plan on fixing soon. We remained on station inside the shield projected by the station -- it's an extremely strong, spherical force field that stretches out several kilometers in each direction. Things were all quiet for about an hour -- the station ran out of strontium just as planned, and the gunners began putting things back on line. We knew the enemy was out there somewhere, but everything was quiet.
I started taking stock of our fleet and my heart sank. We had plenty of hulls, but only a couple battleships. The vast majority of ships in the University fleet were cruisers and frigates . . . all of them piloted by brave University students, but willingness to fight won't put a 125mm small railgun round through 1200mm tungsten plating. The wait was maddening. Someone had just said, "Maybe they aren't coming?" when we got our first scout reports . . . 2 battleships . . . 6 battleships . . . 18 battleships . . . forty battleships at the Korsiki gate. I caught a short prayer from someone in the crew over my bridge microphones.
Sure enough, the next minute my tactical display filled with new targeting data. They already had a warp in point set less than a kilometer from the shield . . . it was a smooth bit of formation flying, if only they weren't trying to kill us. As they started pounding away at the shield, the fleet fidgeted a bit . . . we were safe behind the shield, but for how long? The command channels were silent, and I could only hope that meant that the fleet commander was really, really busy working on something that would keep us all alive. My targeting subroutines dully ran a tonnage comparison between the two fleets, and I tried to ignore it. It was ugly, trust me.
Finally the first orders came through. Tacklers, warp off grid, bounce off Korsiki I and Korsiki II, and then back in system on top of the war targets and commence web and scramble. The rest of the fleet was to hold position. We didn't understand -- our tacklers wouldn't last long in the face of that kind of firepower, so why weren't we being ordered into the battle? The tackling frigates dutifully warped right into the midst of the enemy fleet and started pinning down the larger ships, while the WTs (war targets) began returning fire with heavy weapons and drones.
The heavy weapons didn't seem to be doing much to the fast frigates (they're too hard to track), but the drones were another story, tearing through the light frigates with disturbing ease. At this point, however, I noticed something: numerous reports of targeting laser activation among our tacklers. Our fleet commander had ordered the non-standard fitting before the battle. I figured out the plan right as two things happened.
First of all, the station guns opened up with bright, incandescent streaks of heavy railgun fire. The tackling frigates with target painting lasers had marked specific WT battleships for focused defensive fire. Second, a bunch of allied contacts appeared at the edge of the battlespace out of nowhere. We had allies! It turned out to be a wing of stealth bombers from "Euphoria Released" . . . a ragged cheer went up from the fleet as we saw the missles hit home. Something exploded, but the WTs continued to pound away. This situation continued for some time . . . tacklers weaving between the hulking enemy battleships at top speed, stealth bombers decloaking at extreme range and dropping volleys of missles, and station-mounted weapons returning fire. It seemed to me that the stealth bomber tactic wasn't as effective in later attempts . . . I didn't see them lose anyone, but the enemy fleet managed to drive them off sooner.
Finally the bulk of the fleet got another order. We were to bounce off of SAK before hitting an enemy battleship that had strayed from the main group. The Hotspur jumped away, the crew glad to have something to do other than be shot at. We warmed up the railgun mounts, and I aligned for the station with warp drive spooled up. A cloaked scout gave us a warp in point, and we locked to his position before warping. It was a good jump, we ended up right on top of an Amarrian battleship. I don't know how much damage we contributed, but it was something. The larger ships ignored us, which was good because at that range we wouldn't have been able to take more than a shot or two from a heavy pulse laser. Being closer may make you harder to track, but it certainly doesn't do anyting good for my stress level. I concentrated mainly on avoiding heavy weapons fire, letting the Hotspur's gunnery crews handle the targetting and firing. We didn't see any drones; I found out later that someone had flown a stripped down battleship with skeleton crew into the drone swarm and blown it up like a huge bomb . . . braver man than I . . .
Eventually the target's reactor went critical, and we hotjumped out of the battlezone to await another target and warp in point. At this point my memory gets fuzzy . . . we were warping a lot, acquiring targets and warping out again very quickly.
Things were going alright until we got noticed. Someone in the enemy fleet was flying a heavy missle cruiser, which is about the worst thing possible for a destroyer pilot. The missles move fast enough to track you, and do a ton of damage. We had just warped in to target a Raven-class battleship that had strayed from the fleet when the first volley of missles came in and blew right past the shields. By the time I got us into warp, most of the armor plating had splintered off of the hull and I was beginning to have to dig into system redundancies to keep things running. I nursed the Hotspur to a safespot in empty Korsiki space and we stopped to do some damage control.
We got the fires under control pretty quickly, and the shields were coming up again nicely when another primary was called over the command channel. We could all tell that the University was not winning the battle . . . communications from the fleet commander were becoming increasingly garbled, failing althogether at some points (probably due to damage sustained by the commander's ship). Wing commanders and squad commanders were taking over temporarily, and the fleet was beginning to sustain serious casualties in the face of such overwhelming firepower. After a quick conference with the captain, we decided to return to the battle -- reasoning that the University fleet needed every bit of firepower at it's disposal, and that if the Hotspur were seriously targeted, it wouldn't matter how strong the shields were. As soon as we got a warp in location, I jumped the ship back into the fray.
Sure enough, as soon as we were in system the target locks began falling on the Hotspur again. I was able to single out the Cerebrus-class missle cruiser that had us locked, and the station gunners quickly went to work on him. The damage was severe, but our defense batteries forced him to break off his attack and for the briefest instant I though we had a chance. That's when the Hotspur's luck ran out -- one of the stray heavy laser blasts we'd been dodging all night finally connected. I looked at the tapes later -- it was a Tachyon Energy Beam turret on an Abbaddon-class battleship that wasn't even shooting at us.
The shields were totally down when the huge beam of coherent light smashed into our dorsal side from above and aft. All of my sensory feeds went down for a moment as the safety overrides kicked in, and as soon as it came back I knew we were in big trouble. You know that feeling you get when you've just broken a bone and your arm is bending in the wrong way? It doesn't really hurt, but you know instantly something has gone desperately wrong. That's what the Hotspur felt like -- the shot had broken her back and the bow was twisting inwards as we spun out of control. I tried to maneuver to take some stress off of the smashed frame members, but I had no thruster power -- the shot had pierced the reactor containment vessel, and the overrides had SCRAM'ed it immediately. With the reactor core a mass of frozen, radioactive slag, I had no choice but to sound "abandon ship" and activate my pod jettison.
I got away with that pod intact, docking again at SAK. I was tired, and sore at this point, but the battle was continuing, so I was shuffled quickly over to cheap tackling frigate courtesy of the University. As soon as my pod was sealed into the ship, we were back into the fray . . . one of the most surreal things about being a pod pilot, in my opinion.
Ethan pauses to cough up some more thick liquid.
At this point things start getting hazy. I know that we continued harassing the mercenary fleet, but in the end we just didn't have enough firepower to keep them from destroying the station. I remember the final order to abandon the starbase . . . I didn't actually see it explode. We continued combat operations even after that, harassing the enemy fleet as it attempted to withdraw . . . lots of fast hits and runs, with our covops pilots trying to get a good drop point on an enemy straggler while our battered fleet tried to keep from getting pinned down by the superior enemy force. It was on one of these that I got swarmed by drones and didn't managed to warp out fast enough . . . I was getting tired, I think, but didn't realize it. That's when I got podded, too, and woke up in the clone vats.
In the end, it was a spirited, if futile defense. We just didn't have enough firepower to keep a fleet that large from fulfilling it's goal, particularly once the station and it's defensive turrets were destroyed. The chain of command help up, and we had excellent fleet commanders, but the tonnage disparity was too great. The tone among University pilots in SAK that night was proud despite the loss of the station . . . we knew the odds, and flew anyway to defend what was ours. The university actually came out slightly ahead in the kill tallies by the end of the day -- they took the field, but at significant cost. Apparently this was due mainly to a small group of pilots acting in the background, scanning down and picking off damaged battleships away from the warzone. I haven't felt very close to my fellow students in the past, but as of right now I'll fly with them almost anywhere.
Most of our crews survived. I know that most capsuleers don't keep track of this sort of thing, but I think with clone jumping we're more isolated from the concept of mortality than we should be. Most pod pilot overviews won't even show crew member escape pods as valid targets, and rightly so. I tracked down the captain of the Hotspur yesterday and thanked him for the use of his ship.
Anyways, time to get some rest, and time to finish getting acclimated to this new clone. God, I hate this clone stuff so much.
Ethan coughs once before getting up to shut off the camera.
*End of Entry*